The IEA Greenhouse Gas R&D Programme recently published the first of several reports exploring life cycle greenhouse gas emissions from carbon capture and utilisation (CCU) technologies.
CCU is an alluring prospect in the battle against climate change. The climate benefits are manifold: avoiding atmospheric emissions; substituting other carbon feedstocks; displacing other types of fossil derived products such as fuels, plastics and building materials. Its also offers broader sustainability aspects linked to circular economy concepts. But these features also make it complex to identify if, how and where emission reductions are generated across the life cycle when compared to conventional products.
Today CCU remains a niche activity today and more progress is needed before the technology can be considered as a significant tool for tackling climate change. Policy can help accelerate development by providing incentives for nascent RD&D activities and supporting scale-up to commercial levels. But development is hampered by the significant information asymmetry between operators and policy-makers regarding the life cycle energy, carbon and materials balances of CCU processes and products. Consequently, policy makers remain wary of creating incentives until they can obtain a clearer picture of the scale of possible outcomes and assurances over the risk of creating perverse incentives.
A primary gap is how to estimate and measure the efficacy of different CCU technologies to reduce emissions. This can be resolved by the application of consistent, transparent, and comparable measurement and reporting practices by operators. Thus, internationally-accepted GHG accounting guidelines remains a key goal for near-term policy developments. This work programme aimed to support such an outcome.
This first report reviews the current policy background for CCU development, and associated regulatory aspects of greenhouse gas emissions accounting. Later parts of the study will be published in due course with more detail on energy and carbon balances of several key CCU processes and an Accounting Guideline v1.0. An overview slide presentation is available by clicking on the image above or here.